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Neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley on using games to deliver precise and targeted therapy.
This week, we’re serializing another episode of the After On Podcast here on Ars. Our guest is University of California, San Francisco neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley, who runs one of the largest academic neuroscience labs on the West Coast. His main research goal is tuning video games to combat neurological aliments, including dementia and ADHD.
This may sound a bit like sci-fi (or wishful thinking!), but his work has been featured on the cover of Nature—which is widely considered to be one of the most prestigious academic journals in all of science. Short of a Nobel, peer validation doesn’t get much stronger than that.
We’ll run this interview in three installments. You can access today’s via our embedded audio player or by reading the accompanying transcript (both of which are below).
At the heart of today’s conversation is Adam’s take on neuroplasticity. I’ve known this term for years and long thought I understood it. But this interview (which was first recorded a little over a year ago) brought me a far more nuanced comprehension of the term.
Writ large, neuroplasticity denotes the brain’s ability to rewire itself by forging new neural connections. It was long believed that this ability attenuated late in childhood, but it’s now known to be retained throughout life. I used to think of neuroplasticity almost strictly in connection to “book learning,” but Adam ties it deeply to experience. This can include semi-virtual experiences, like the ones we engage in while playing video games.
Neuroplasticity can have negative effects. The canonical example is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), in which searing experiences rewire the brain in ways that produce lingering trauma. On the positive side, Adam believes neuroplasticity could one day deliver far better therapeutic e